Loggerhead sea turtles spend most of their lives in the open ocean or shallow coastal waters, but soon thousands of female sea turtles will come ashore to begin their annual rite of spring.
May 1 marks the beginning of sea turtle nesting season on Florida's Gulf Coast.
The marine reptiles will emerge from the water to lay their eggs in nests dug on sandy beaches. In about two months, tiny turtles will hatch and attempt to crawl to the ocean.
Stacey Gallagher is with the Sea Turtle Conservancy. She says it's important for beachgoers to respect all nesting season laws and regulations.
"If you see a hatchling or a nesting sea turtle, congratulations, that’s amazing. It’s a very magical thing to witness,” she said. “But the best thing you can do is just passively watch them from afar. They’ve been doing this for millions of years."
Loggerheads are the most abundant of all the marine turtle species in U.S. waters. But persistent population declines have kept them on the threatened species list since 1978.
Gallagher says the greatest threat to the reptiles is loss of nesting habitat due to coastal development. Lighting near beaches causes hatchlings to become disoriented.
Another major threat is pollution. Gallagher says her group encourages people to refuse single-use plastics whenever possible.
"Even if you do dispose of trash properly, it still gets in our waterways,” she said. “Sea turtles have so many different threats that they’re facing and plastic is one of the most preventable things."
About 90 percent of sea turtle nesting in the U.S. takes place in Florida.
You can see the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's 2018 Sea Turtle Nesting Season totals here.